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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                        175
at his unfortunate family affairs and complained of his
bitter loneliness, although everybody in the ward knew
that he was unmarried and had no particular family
troubles.
It is true Klavdia Mikhailovna showed him a little
more favour than the rest; she would sit on the edge of
his bed and listen to the tales of his adventures, and he,
unconsciously, as it were, would take her hand, and she
would not withdraw it. Anger grew in Meresyev's heart,
the entire ward was mad at Struchkov, for he behaved as
if he wanted to prove to his wardmates that Klavdia
Mikhailovna was no different from any other woman. He
was gravely warned to stop this dirty game, and the
ward was preparing resolutely to interfere in the matter
when the affair suddenly took a totally different turn.
One evening, during her spell of duty, Klavdia Mi-
khailovna came into the ward not to attend to any of the
patients, but just for a chat—it was for this that the pa-
tients liked her particularly. The major began one of his
stories and the nurse sat down by his bed. Nobody no-
ticed how it happened, but suddenly she jumped up.
Everybody looked round. With an angry frown and
flushed cheeks, the nurse glared at Struchkov—who
looked ashamed and even frightened—and said:
"Comrade Major, if you were not a patient and I a
nurse, I'd slap your face!"
"Oh, Klavdia Mikhailovna, I give you my word I
didn't mean to.... And besides, what is there in it?..."
"Oh! What is there in it?" She looked at him now not
with anger, but with contempt. "Very well. There's no-
thing more to be said. Do you hear? And now I ask you,
in front of your comrades, never to speak to me again
except when you need medical attention. Good night,
comrades!"
And she left the ward with a step unusually heavy for
her, evidently trying hard to appear calm.
For a moment silence reigned in the ward. Then
Alexei's vicious, triumphant laugh was heard, and ev-
erybody pounced upon the major:
"So you got what was coming to you!"
Gloatingly, Meresyev asked with mock politeness:
"Do you want me to spit in your face now or later?'"